Vatican abuse trial: Victim alleges 6 years of abuse by older student

VM141020094024 0018 The first hearing of an abuse trial takes place at the Vatican court Oct. 14, 2020./ Vatican Media.

The alleged victim in the ongoing trial for sexual abuse in a Vatican youth seminary testified in court Wednesday that he was sexually assaulted over a period of six years by a slightly older student.

The alleged victim, 28-year-old L.G., was questioned for almost three hours March 17 about accusations he was sexually abused by the defendant Fr. Gabriele Martinelli while they were students at the Pius X pre-seminary.

Located inside Vatican City State, the Pius X pre-seminary is a residence for about a dozen boys aged 12 to 18 who serve at papal Masses and other liturgies in St. Peter’s Basilica and are considering the priesthood.

The pre-seminary is run by a religious group, the Opera Don Folci, which is overseen by the Diocese of Como in northern Italy.

Wednesday's hearing was the sixth in a Vatican criminal trial which began last year.

The defendants are 28-year-old Martinelli, who is charged with using violence and his position of authority to commit sexual abuse; and 72-year-old Fr. Encrico Radice, the seminary's former rector, who has been charged with impeding investigations into the abuse allegations against Martinelli.

The Vatican court is deciding whether to accept a request by L.G.’s lawyer that the Diocese of Como be included among the defendants in a separate civil suit.

Due to COVID-19 restrictions, a planned visit by the court to the youth seminary, the location of the alleged crimes, has been canceled. The court will instead inspect documents and photos of the structure.

The next hearing is scheduled for March 26, and will be dedicated to the testimony of Kamil Jarzembowski, another ex-student of the pre-seminary, a former roommate of L.G., and an alleged witness to the crime.

Jarzembowski was the first to go to the media about the accusations, which were first reported by Italian investigative news program Le Iene in 2017.

Bishop Vittorio Lanzani will also take the stand. At the time in question, Lanzani was the secretary of the Fabric of St. Peter, second in charge of St. Peter's Basilica after Cardinal Angelo Comastri, who has been cited in the trial for claims he was told about abuse but ignored it or did not follow up.

In his testimony March 17, L.G. claimed Martinelli, who is seven months older, sexually abused him starting at the end of 2006, beginning of 2007, about two months after he moved to the pre-seminary when he was 13 years old.

The abuse first started in the alleged victim's room, with genital touching for self-stimulation, as much as two to three times per week, and over time escalated to other sexual acts, L.G. alleged. He said they also took place in two unused rooms of the Pius X pre-seminary.

"Martinelli had slipped into my bed at night. For me it was a very strange thing, I was young and I had never entered the world of sexuality. At home or in my town I had never heard of sex. I felt a sense of confusion, I didn't understand what was happening," L.G. testified.

He described the situation in his hometown when he left to enter the pre-seminary as difficult socially due to gossip about his family and divorced parents. Going to the pre-seminary was a chance for "social redemption," L.G. said, claiming that this is why he did not consider leaving and returning home after the abuse started.

L.G. said he tried to make as much noise as possible during the episodes, but he either was not heard or was ignored.

He said he became paralyzed with fear that his peers would find out what was happening, or what his parents or parish priest back home, who were very proud of him, would think if they knew.

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L.G. claimed that over the years, he became resigned to the abuse and did not physically react.

"I thought: do what you want, just hurry up and leave, because I want to sleep because I have school tomorrow," he said. "I liked school, it was the only moment of freedom and normality, since in the Pre-seminar we lived in a muffled way, there was no freedom of movement or thought."

According to L.G., Martinelli solicited him for sexual acts also in the "Canonica" on the third floor of St. Peter's Basilica, where the boys prepared to serve at Mass, but he was able to "escape" and no abuse ever happened in rooms or bathrooms connected to the basilica.

He said in 2009, he first spoke to the then-rector, Fr. Radice, about his problems with Martinelli, but he spoke generally and was not explicit about sexual abuse.

He said he now regrets not having been more clear, but alleged that Radice treated him badly, saying he was just "jealous," and threatening to call his family and pastor and kick him out.

The alleged victim said he longer attempted to report the abuse.

After he left the pre-seminary in 2013, L.G. stated that he met with then-Bishop of Como, Diego Coletti, not wanting to create problems, but because he needed help paying for psychological assistance.

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According to L.G., Coletti asked him to write him a letter and advised him to "distance himself from the Church" and "live his life." L.G. said in this letter, written with the help of a priest, he claimed to have experienced psychological manipulation and "sexual violence" at the pre-seminary. The letter had no response, alleged L.G. and other than a telephone call with Coletti, there was no other contact between them.

L.G. also alleged to have had, the same year, a brief meeting with Bishop Vittorio Lanzani, in which he was explicit about the sexual violence he experienced, but again he received no response.

The alleged victim testified that he heard of occasions when Martinelli had entered the rooms of other boys at night, but he never saw abuse of others first-hand.

L.G. also claimed to have written a letter to Pope Francis in 2017 at the suggestion of another former student, Alessandro Flamini, who said he would deliver it to the pope.

According to L.G., Flamini threw the letter away because he saw his friend, Bishop Lanzani, was named in the letter.

The alleged victim testified that today he suffers from sleep disturbance, serious problems in the sexual and relational spheres, and in establishing relationships of trust with others. He said he did not continue to pursue the priesthood, because of a "disgust and total revulsion" with the Church environment and to have feelings of nausea if he even thought about entering the seminary.

During the hearing, lawyers for the defendants brought forward discrepancies and contradictions between L.G.'s testimony in the hearing March 18 and his written statement to the Promotor of Justice. They also attempted to argue that what occured between Martinelli and L.G. was a consensual relationship.

Martinelli was ordained a priest for the Diocese of Como in 2017. He has denied the allegations against him, calling them "unfounded" and intended to "strike" at the pre-seminary.

Radice has also defended his innocence, claiming he was never told about abuse by Martinelli by anyone. He also accused the alleged victim and another alleged witness of making up the story for "economic interests."